“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you from serving as my priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your sons.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Nations fall for one of two reasons. They are conquered either by forces from without or forces from within. What I mean is, some nations fall to conquest by other nations, while other nations fall to their own internal crumbling. Sometimes, though, both are at fault. The nation’s core begins to crumble, weakening them externally, which invites another nation to come and conquer them. In this case, what looks like the reason for their destruction on the outside is really just a symptom of what was already happening on the inside. This is what was going on with Israel and there’s a message here for all of us if we’ll listen carefully.
This is a hard chapter to read. God’s indictments of the people are specific and graphic. With Hosea’s own personal situation fully in view, God uses a whole bunch of sexually charged language to describe the sins of the people. It’s even more uncomfortable to read than chapter one was. If we’ll stick with it, though, we can see what was happening.
There were two lines of decay happening. God identified both of them over the course of this chapter, but only one of them here. The second line was the wayward desires of the people. The culture of Israel and Judah both was decadent. The nations were rich and successful. They had plenty. But in the midst of their prosperity there was a growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Other prophets dealt specifically with that. Hosea focuses in here on what were probably the corruptions of the elite.
This second line of decay, however, was merely a symptom of the first which Hosea identifies here. The people were engaging in all of this corrupt behavior because they didn’t know any better. There was a lack of knowledge. The people didn’t know what was right and so didn’t do what was right. The question is: Whose fault was this?
Certainly we are all responsible for acting on the truth we know and from Paul we know that certain truths about God are easily knowable by simple, if thoughtful, observation of the world around us. Men like Aristotle who had no sense of the one true God animating his philosophy nonetheless reasoned that a life of virtue is the best possible life. He even went so far as to identify several virtues that the various New Testament authors would later second.
On the other hand, the deep truths about the world that point us in the direction of the God who exists and whose character should be the primary shaper of our own is generally a handed-down knowledge. And the class of men in Israel who were tasked with making sure this knowledge got handed-down were the priests. The priests were to make sure the people knew the Law and knew the way that God had already guaranteed them would lead to life.
And they had failed. Miserably.
So, while God would certainly hold the people responsible, the priests were the chief focus of His ire. Instead of proclaiming to the people what was right, they were secretly—and not so secretly too—gorging their appetites for sin off of watching the people whom they were not instructing rightly commit the sins they didn’t feel free to commit themselves. They were exploiting the people’s ignorance for their own pleasure.
And God wasn’t happy about it.
My question is this: What does this have to do with us? Well, Hosea was writing to a specific people for a specific reason dealing with a specific issue. And we’re not them. Our relationship with the Lord is not the same as theirs was.
But, as we watch our culture become more and more decadent, I can’t help but wonder if the church has done its job well of proclaiming truth to a culture steeped in a kind of willful ignorance of what is right and true. Have we spoken the truth with the kind of gracious boldness that gains an audience willing to at least consider what we have to say? Or have we simply used the truth as a club alienating the very people who most need to hear it? Or have we even left the culture in ignorance in order to secretly gorge off of their sin?
We have a role to play with respect to the culture we are in. It’s not identical to Hosea’s or the priests, but it is vital all the same. If we fail to play it, there will be a price to pay. Their sin and the blood it causes will be on our hands. We must speak with gentleness, but an insistent boldness that won’t rest until the truth is heard clearly and can be rejected or accepted on its own merits. Much depends on it. Let’s get to it.